On Wings of Ashes

by Pascoite

First published

Sonata Dusk used to have friends. They hung out together all the time and told her what to do, and that's what friends are, right? At least she has her tacos now, and she gets to hear pretty music, but Sunset Shimmer keeps looking at her funny.

Sonata Dusk used to have friends. The Dazzlings hung out together all the time and told her what to do, and that's what friends are, right? She has Taco Tuesdays, though, and listening outside the chorus room is pretty cool. But Sunset Shimmer keeps looking at her funny, and oh crap, she's going to interrupt taco time.

12th-place finisher in the Writeoff Association's "Behind Closed Doors" event.

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On Wings of Ashes

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Sonata Dusk couldn’t listen to choir rehearsal today, since they didn’t meet on Tuesdays, and the floor felt kind of cold. Not to mention Sunset Shimmer frowning every time that she caught Sonata sitting out here in the hall during lunch lately.

The day hadn’t started any worse than usual for her. Not any better, either. Well, even that wasn’t quite right. She took a deep breath and a mental step back.

Tuesday, so tacos, natch. Nothing got her out of bed quite like that. But she knew she’d end up eating alone, and then history class had run late, so by the time she got to the cafeteria, all the crunchy shells were gone, and...

Major bummer. She let her breath out.

So she found herself sitting on the floor yet again, leaning against a locker in an empty hallway, and chewing on some very un-crunchy tacos. Oh, those refried beans, all buttery smooth! Cool lettuce, juicy tomato, spicy sauce, tangy pico de gallo—how many times had she explained to Adagio how to pronounce that? Sometimes she could act pretty dumb.

Anyway, sour cream and cheese, too. Couldn’t miss out on paying her respects to any of the ingredients. She finished off her third—halfway done already!—and licked the hot sauce off her fingers. What a wonderful burn on her lips! Still, she had to go without that great crunch and corn flavor that sometimes got jammed between her teeth, and it’d take her a good hour to work it out with her tongue, but then she’d get a nice crispy crumb for a treat at the end of math class!

Or a sharp corner might jab her in the gums and hurt for a week. Never underestimate the power of the tortilla to give and take away. It was all part of the dance. Speaking of…

Feet stomped in rhythm from the classroom across the hall. Some kind of chant about pounding the griffins or something. A game today, she guessed, but whatevs. Sonata had never really cared much for competition.

“I can’t hear you!” Pinkie Pie kept screaming from inside. Funny, Sonata could hear them just fine. Pinkie could, too, since she’d respond right in time with them, but they just went back and forth again and again.

Why did Sonata always sit here? Oh, yeah. The cafeteria menu was posted on the wall above her, looking over her shoulder. And once a week, her benevolent stone-ground goddess, with her flowing hair of cheese. Plus the music.

Pep squad today, chorus most of the rest of the week. The Rainbooms sometimes practiced in there on Fridays. Those chorus days were the best! She could pick out Rarity’s and Sunset Shimmer’s voices from the group and follow along. She’d try to hum with it, but she could never find the key or settle into one of the harmonic lines, just appreciate the sopranos’ descant, the basses’ pedal tones.

Would Adagio and Aria have enjoyed singing in the chorus? Maybe. If they still could. For some reason, they always looked at her funny when she used words like “descant,” but that was what they did, right? Wouldn’t they know that? Silly girls!

Anyway, she hadn’t seen them much in months. Something about high school being dumb, and they didn’t need it, and why would Sonata ever want to stay around stupid people like those humans?

Not like it hurt anything. School wasn’t so bad, and if Adagio and Aria wanted to come by to say hello, she’d be here. She’d even pop by their apartment sometimes, if they woke up before she left for school, and she’d give them a cheery wave. Way back when, Sonata used to do the cooking—were they getting enough to eat? They’d better make sure they got enough taco in their diets.

Now it sounded more like talking across the hall and not shouting. She started on taco number four and tried to wedge a piece of tortilla between a couple molars for later, but it wouldn’t stay. She’d leaned forward and cocked her head to keep any precious filling from dropping out, and when she glanced back up, she paused mid-chew to see Sunset Shimmer looking down at her.

“You… okay?” Sunset said, an eyebrow raised.

“Mmhmm,” Sonata replied through a mouthful of beany goodness.

“You sure? It’s just—you’re always there alone, and…” Sunset gave a weak smile and shifted her weight onto one leg. “You could eat in the cafeteria, you know.”

Sonata jerked a thumb toward the taco poster behind her. “She sees all,” she mumbled. “Knows all. I belong here under her watchful gaze.”

“Yeah, see…” Sunset crouched down and scanned over the floor. “You get tortilla crumbs all over the place, and the other kids have been complaining. At least usually. Soft tacos today, huh? Y’know, they don’t leave all the crunchy bits to step on, so if you stuck with those, maybe—”

“Heretic!” Sonata hissed, but Sunset was staring at the wall with sparkles in her eyes.

“Wait,” Sunset said. “Wait just a minute. I know what this is. I know what this is! You—” she jabbed a finger at Sonata “—have a friendship problem. Omigosh, is this what Twilight feels like all the time?” She let out a little screech and danced around.

Should… should Sonata leave? Sunset had pretty much asked her to already, so… maybe she was trying to scare her off? Sonata pushed up against the wall to stand—

“No! Nonono!” Sunset fired off, pushing Sonata back down. “I’m going to solve your problem, and oooh this feels so good! Do you… do you miss the other two sirens? Is that why you always sit here alone?”

Resuming her chewing, Sonata shrugged. Why would that matter?

But Sunset kept watching. “Look, I’m sorry the other two left. I know how hard it is”—she pursed her lips—“to go without friends.”

From inside the chorus room, a deep boom sounded, and Pinkie came flying through the air, only to crash with her back flat against the wall. Sunset and Sonata stared at her for a minute before she could squeak something out. “Needed to know what it was like to be confetti.” She held up a torn piece of string from her party cannon’s trigger. “So fun!” she wheezed with her eyes squeezed shut.

“Friends like Pinkie here,” Sunset added with a shake of her head.

“Wait, you mean I’m doing something wrong?” Wouldn’t surprise her, since she didn’t have the other two around to tell her anymore. But she didn’t need friends right now, unless something was going on she didn’t know about, like getting her amulet back. Aside from that, friends didn’t really serve much purpose.

Anyway, her butt was going numb with her knees propped up like this, so she gathered her legs up and sat with them crossed.

“Haha! I can see your underwear!”

“Snips!” Sunset shouted. “Get out of here, or so help me…” She cocked her hand back and made a feint at him, and he tore off down the hall.

Sonata glared after him as she straightened her legs out and tugged her skirt’s hemline down. She might not know why all these people needed to hang out in groups and talk and smile all the time, but she did know when they were just being rude.

“Sorry about him,” Sunset said. “He’s like that to everyone. But… no, you didn’t do anything wrong. I mean about making friends. Why do you ask?”

Sonata set her tray on the floor next to her. Only a couple of students standing around, so nobody would step on it. “Because I don’t need any right now. Why, do you want to make lasers and rainbows and stuff? I don’t think I can.”

“No, no. That’s not what friendship’s about,” Sunset said, wiping a hand down her face.

“So fun!” Pinkie whispered again, finally sliding the last few inches to the floor.

Sunset held in a laugh, then waved a dismissive hand at her. “Look, do you have a free period after this?”

Sonata shrugged. “Study hall.”

“Good. Come with me.” Sunset tugged on her arm. “I am so going to earn some sweet friendship points for this.”

“But my tacos!”

Pinkie grabbed both and stuffed them into her hair. Into her hair! She shielded her mouth with the back of her hand. “After school,” she hissed. “Meet me then. They’ll keep.”

Sonata could only stare wide-eyed back, and then Sunset dragged her toward the cafeteria. She flailed an arm back at Pinkie. “But…”

Sonata couldn’t help noticing all the glances her way. Not that she didn’t get that from time to time, but people usually just ignored her. Maybe because someone was talking to her?

“So you brought me back to the cafeteria? Without my lunch?” Sonata frowned. It wouldn’t have been half as bad, except the strong scent of southwest seasonings still lingered in the air, like a sweetly singing banshee shrieking spicy, crunchy death into her ear. Or her nose. Her stomach growled.

“How can you still be hungry?” Sunset asked. “How many of those did you pound down already?”


Burying her head in her hands, Sunset let out a sigh. “This is more important. Tell me, don’t you miss the other two… What were their names?”

“Adagio Dazzle and Aria Blaze,” Sonata answered with a shrug. “I dunno. We were a group, they left, now we’re not.”

“And that doesn’t… leave a hole in your heart?”

Sonata’s eyes shot wide open. She pawed at her shirt frantically for a second. But nothing. Phew. What would they possibly do with her heart anyway? They couldn’t get any energy from it, even if it didn’t have a hole.

Sunset rubbed the bridge of her nose. “No… I mean, do you wish they were still here? Or if not them, don’t you wish you had someone else?”

“Someone… else? You can do that?” Who else would she hang out with? The Sirens had always just been a thing, for thousands of years. She guessed Sirens might come and go, even if it had never happened that way, but others?

“Absolutely. Why, are you afraid nobody would forgive you?”

Sonata squinted at her. “Forgive?”

“Well, don’t you feel like what you did was wrong?” Sunset had leaned over the table. Sonata didn’t like being put on the spot like that. Adagio always used to do it, then get mad when she couldn’t answer.


Sunset’s shoulders slumped. “Did you like doing that?”

“It’s… how we eat. I just… do it. Or used to.”

“But you don’t now.”

Sonata shrunk into her seat. “I dunno.”

“Would you want someone to do that to Adagio or Aria?”

“I dunno.” Couldn’t she just go back to her hallway now?

“Do you even like them?”

Too many questions. Sonata shrugged and looked into her lap. “I dunno.” Neither one said anything for a long time. Or it felt long, anyway. Sonata thought about Adagio and Aria talking, singing… whatever. But she couldn’t picture them smiling. Had she ever seen either one of them smile? “I did it ’cause they told me to,” Sonata finally said.

“And did you enjoy it?” Another long minute of silence, and Sonata pleaded for the bell to ring. Math actually sounded pretty good about now.

Sunset gestured at the other people at nearby tables. “Any one of those could be your friend.”

So Sonata gave them a good look.

A girl with a striped mohawk and an absolute ton of jewelry walked by, chatting with a smaller girl. “Why someone bound for med school needs to pass history is to me, dear Apple Bloom, one great big mystery.”

Sonata glanced back at Sunset, who flicked her hand, saying, “Oh, you’ll get used to that. It’s just her thing.”

Another girl had on way too much yellow lipstick, and a boy at the next table rolled a die, pumped his fist, and shouted, “Excelsior!”

These people?” Sonata said.

Now it was Sunset’s turn to shrug. “You’re not exactly catching them at their best. Anyway—” she waited for Sonata’s attention “—I kinda need an answer if I’m going to help you.”

That did get Sonata’s attention. “Help me? Why?”

“Because someone helped me when I needed it. Now, did you like making everyone argue and feeding off it?”

Sonata returned her gaze to her lap. “I liked singing.”

“You three already knew my story. Adagio made that clear,” Sunset said. “There’s someone else who’s gone through the same thing. She also gave into darker impulses, but later turned her life around.”

Really? Sonata sat up again and waited for the answer, but Sunset was going to make her say it. “Who?”

“Princess Luna.” Sunset snapped a sharp nod. No way she was serious.

“That straight-laced pony? You almost had me goin’ there.” Sonata did her snorty laugh—the one Adagio hated.

Except Sunset didn’t laugh with her. “A lot changed after you left Equestria. And a lot of similar things happened here, too.”

“Nightmare Moon? Like, for realsies?” Sonata said as she followed Sunset through the hallways. Wow. She really had missed a lot.

Sunset returned a grim smile. “Yeah. I’d already come to this world before she returned from exile, so like everyone else, I didn’t know it was any more than a legend. Nobody even remembered that Princess Celestia had a sister. I would have missed it all, too, except Twilight gave me some books on recent Equestrian history to catch up. And I haven’t even been gone that long, at least not as long as you.”

Sonata nodded. She guessed she couldn’t assume everything would have stayed the same. Star Swirl was ancient history now. She actually kind of missed him.

“So… where are we going?”

Sunset turned one more corner, into a darkened hall, and pointed at the closed office door near the end. “Luna. At least the one from this world. She got into a… situation a lot like Princess Luna’s, but… I’ll let her tell it. She understands what it’s like to give in to temptation for power. I think she can help you. She sure helped me. I didn’t expect it, but she pulled me aside one day, talked to me, and… it meant a lot to me that she’d do that. Just give it a try.”

Something about Luna sent a shiver down Sonata’s spine. Since she didn’t have her jewel anymore, probably. She took a few halting steps, then stopped and chewed on her fingertips. She glanced back, and Sunset made a shooing motion. But Sonata couldn’t move.

Sunset let out a sigh, walked past Sonata, and pulled her along by the arm. The blinds had been drawn, and the lights were out, but Sonata could hear someone moving inside.

Quietly, Sunset knocked on the door. “Yes?” a voice sounded on the other side.

Sunset opened the door a crack and poked her head through. Some mumbled conversation, and then she pushed the door open the rest of the way and swept an arm toward the interior.

With her eyes locked on the floor, Sonata stepped in and found a chair. She sat leaning forward, with her hands on her knees, gripping them tightly. She heard the door shut softly behind her. And a sharp whisper: “Yes! Friendship points, here I come! Twilight will be so proud!”

“I understand that you would like some advice,” Luna said.

Only then did Sonata look up. She blinked once, in case her eyes had lied to her. There sat Luna, not at her desk, but on a padded bench. She wore only a pair of form-fitting shorts and a sports bra. And she was absolutely ripped.

Her abs bulged in rows like a tray of dinner rolls, and in her right hand, she clenched a fifty-pound weight, up near her shoulder. The bicep keeping it there looked like a grapefruit wedged against her wrist. Luna set the weight down on the rack behind her and swiped a towel across her forehead. “So, what can I help you with?”

Sonata remembered to breathe, but finding her voice was another matter.

“I think I can surmise,” Luna said with a grim smile. “You want to know about what the newspapers dubbed the ‘Nightmare Moon’ incident?”

Sonata could only nod.

“It is a matter of public record, so I cannot exactly hide it.” Luna closed her eyes. “I shall start at the beginning, then.”

As she turned in to the school’s parking lot, Luna braced the boxes of donuts in the passenger seat with a hand. No need to have them tip over and make a mess.

Her turn to bring them for the weekly staff meeting, and heaven forbid she should forget. She had made that mistake once, and Celestia had browbeat her about it for weeks. And if anything set off the alarms more than donuts, it was cake. Of course, Celestia knew that everyone would have a little get-together in the break room on her birthday, and Luna had counted at least two dozen little “Don’t forget the cake!” notes posted in her office, in her car, on her front door.

She pulled into her reserved parking space, but the football coach’s huge truck sat right on the stripe. No way would she ever be able to get the passenger door open enough to maneuver those boxes out. But right on the other side of the front walk, her sister’s space…

Celestia had not come in yet, and the handicapped space beside hers had a wide crosshatched area for navigating a wheelchair, if need be. Perfect for unloading. And of course, not twenty minutes later…

The door to Luna’s office burst open. “Luna, you’re in my space,” Celestia said.

Luna folded her hands. This was true. But what difference did it make? “I needed the room to bring in the donuts. Is there a problem?”

Celestia bit her lip until some of the fire in her eyes had died down. “It is a show of respect. I don’t begrudge your discretion in using it temporarily, but you could have gone back out to move your car.”

“You would really raise a stink over a parking space?” Luna replied. Truth be told, she was interested to see how Celestia would react. And if she had not said anything, Luna just might have parked there again tomorrow.

“It’s important to maintain discipline and order in the school,” Celestia said with a pointed stare. As if she ever had to manage discipline. She got all the fun, sunny jobs. Hiring new teachers, deciding on decor, school dances, photo opportunities with the press. Luna had to deal with handing out detention slips, supervising the janitorial staff, overseeing the food service… assigning parking spaces.

She just might have to make a little change there. Not now, though. Luna had a few other alterations to implement. Nobody appreciated what she did around the school. But they would.

At lunch, Luna authorized the astronomy club to repaint a classroom midnight blue and apply glow-in-the-dark star decals, as long as they faithfully reproduced constellations. An hour later, she intercepted a reporter on the way to the main office and told him how the school was looking to fill a vacancy for a physics instructor, complete with a few nice quotes about the importance of science in today’s workforce. And during the final period, she decreed that the fall formal dance should take the theme “Under the Moonlight,” going so far as to announce it over the intercom.

Predictably enough, Celestia soon returned to Luna’s office. She sat in one of the bare plastic seats along the wall and tapped a foot against its leg. “Sister, please explain yourself. I have no idea where this is coming from.”

“You wanted the spotlight all to yourself!” Luna said, bracing her hands on her desk and leaning over it. You get all the flashy jobs, all the fun things!”

“What?” Celestia threw her hands up in the air. “How can you even say that?”

Luna clenched her jaw. “You get to tell the local stations what exciting things are happening, you get to listen to the students cheer when you call a pep rally, you get to be the face of the school! I hold court with the scofflaws, post the same menus on the wall week after week, make sure the bathrooms do not stink…”

Her brow wrinkled, Celestia hunched her shoulders up. “That was all in the job description. You knew that when you applied.” Luna glowered back. “And you can handle some of the interviews, run some of the school functions. Why didn’t you just say so?”

Too little, too late. And she did not even mean it. Not a word. With each passing second, Luna ground her teeth harder and harder until she had made up her mind. She would not live under Celestia’s thumb anymore.

She leapt over the desk, grabbed a handful of her sister’s hair, and threw a forearm at Celestia’s chin. “Under the Moonlight!” she shouted. “Just try and rename it!” With that same reporter staring wide-eyed through the doorway, Luna finally took on a full administrative role: administering a beat-down.

“I did hard time for that,” Luna said with a humorless smile. “Sister said it was for my own good, but she refused to press charges unless they levied the minimum sentence: one thousand days.”

Sonata gasped. A convict? As a school bigwig?

“It changes you.” Luna looked off at the sky outside. “A lot. In ways you would not expect.” With a sigh, she flexed her massive bicep again.

“You look for ways to pass the time. So I started lifting. Oh, and home brewing.” She swung her legs over the bench, stepped to the closet, and opened it. Inside sat a toilet, but… not hooked up to any plumbing.

Sonata gulped hard as Luna took the cover from the tank on the back and dipped a cup in. “Care for some cider?”

“Al-alcoholic?” What in the world was going on?

Luna chuckled. “Of course not. This is a school.”

“N-no, th-thank you.” Though her throat had gone dry.

“I got used to having it like this. Sorry, just developed a taste for making it this way.” In only a few swallows, Luna drained the cup and refilled it. “Anyway, I completely agree with Celestia. She had the right of it, and I learned from the experience. I would never do anything like that again, and when she saw that I understood that, she agreed to rehire me. That is why you are here, right?”

Sonata nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I guess. Sunset kept asking me questions, but… I dunno.” She was going to have to think again, wasn’t she? “Sunset said you helped her deal with… well, figuring out how to be different. I guess.”

After draining her cup a second time, Luna shut the closet door. “Good. So you have decided that you do not want to behave the way you have in the past?” Sonata bowed her head. “And you know what you wish to focus your attention on in the future?”

Friendship. That seemed to answer a lot of questions around here. At least so people quit asking more. Did it really mean anything? She started to speak, hesitated, finally said it. “No.”

To her surprise, Luna smiled. “Good. We will work on that together. But for now… Sunset tells me you enjoy music.”

“Well, yeah! I can’t really sing anymore—” she squeezed her eyes shut for a second “—but I listen, outside the choir room.” She sat up straighter, and her eyes glimmered. “Y’know, it kinda bugs me, though, when the director is all, ‘Hey, you sopranos need to bring out the melody more,’ and I’m all like, ‘Duh, you don’t have melody in polyphony, just let the lines blend together, and…’” Why was Luna gaping at her like that?

And then a gentle smile. But Sonata didn’t want to think about that. She kept watching, though, and when Luna bent over to pick up her towel off the floor—

“What’s that?” Sonata asked, pointing at Luna’s back.

Luna reached over her shoulder and rubbed at the black lines traced across her skin, at least what Sonata could see of them—it looked like there were more under her top. Thin lines, in the shape of crude… feathers?

“Oh, my prison tat? As the students here might say, ‘Pretty sweet, huh?’”

“Yeah, coolsies!” No way. Vice Principal Luna turned out to be awesome? Oh, and she was responsible for the menu? She came up with taco Tuesdays!? Sonata nodded vigorously.

For a moment, Luna stared pointedly at her, then turned to her desk and rummaged around in the center drawer. She had… something in each hand—a box of matches in the left, maybe. Yeah. Luna struck one, held her other fist over the flame until she grimaced and tore her gaze away—wow, hardcore!—and pinched out the fire and ground the burnt matchstick into an ashtray until only a fine black powder remained. Then she spit in it and swished it into a paste with her finger.

Finally, she opened her other hand—a safety pin! Luna undid the point and dabbed some of the charcoal onto it. “I did not offer this to Sunset, but I have a good feeling about you. It will be a special bond we share. Do you want one?” She leaned forward and held the sharp tip near Sonata’s shoulder.

“Well, yeah! I mean, duh!” Could this afternoon possibly go any better? Sonata turned around and rolled up the back of her shirt. Wow, and she still had two tacos waiting for her! “Hey, how did you get enough apples in prison to make cider?”

“Oh, I brought them in with me,” Luna answered. “It was a minimum-security prison. I only had to stay there during nights on weekdays.”

Last rehearsal before the big concert. Sonata took her place at the podium and tapped her baton. And then she gave the downbeat.

With all the hot lights pouring down on her, and the world past the stage lost in shadows—tomorrow, the seats would be full, but for now, she could concentrate on the music and nothing else.

Sonata smiled at Sunset Shimmer, Rarity, and Fluttershy, as well as a few others whose names she’d learned: Big Macintosh, Toe Tapper, Torch Song. But those first three were her favorites to watch, because… well, it’d happen soon enough.

The different lines—polyphonic lines—blended together in perfect balance. They gathered, drifted around, grew in volume until the piece reached its high point. And it happened. Those three girls—their hair lengthened, and glowing ears appeared on top of their heads. Fluttershy even had wings.

Why did she like seeing that so much? Yeah, friendship, she got that, but it hadn’t really sunk in yet. Maybe later, but for now she could enjoy the music, especially since Luna’d convinced that poor overworked music director to let Sonata pitch in. Who knew she’d get to lead the choir?

Sonata turned her head to check the echo—wait, one seat in the front row wasn’t empty. Luna sat there with a gentle smile, and… well, at least Sonata had one friend, so far. She closed her eyes. She didn’t need to see the choir to conduct them.

And then Sonata felt it: a warm itching on her head. When she reached up to see what had caused it—ears! Fuzzy little ears up there! Her ponytail had grown, too.

She stopped directing, but it took the choir a minute to notice and go silent. They gasped.

When she followed their gazes over her shoulder, she gasped, too. Wings! Poorly drawn, with a jagged black outline! She gave them a test flap and hovered over the stage, but only for a second before the magic disappeared.

It didn’t matter. She knew now. She could make that magic, and she would again. She jumped to the floor, wiped the tears from her eyes, rushed up to Luna, and hugged her tightly. Tacos and prison tats, and she’d actually grown to like that cider, a-and…

Her first friend. First real friend.

The first of what would be many.